Author Archives: Kelsey Kelliher

Bad Spirits in Ice Cold Air

Okay so, my great grandma’s home in Chicago was an old historical mansion.  For whatever reason, when the electrical work was put in the light switch in the foyer was not right when you walked in the door.  You had to walk to the end of the hallway to turn the light on.  

And no one was home.  And my dad got home.  He was like 17-ish.  He walked in the door.  And the room he felt was ice cold.  A cold he had never felt in his life.  And my great grandma used to see spirits all the time.  And she would also describe a bad spirit as being ice cold.  And it’s a cold that shouldn’t be there.  So he told my great grandma about it right away.  And she had someone come and do something.  

But her mom, Mama Price, our great great grandmother had like a book. Not a book on witchcraft, but some sort of spell-ish book with like homeopathic remedies.  There is a very spiritual side the that side of the family.  

Ring Around the Rosie

Ring around the rosie,

A pocket full of posies,  

Ashes, Ashes,

We all fall down  [the kids collapsed to the ground and rolled around]

We all get up and run around [the kids go up and ran around]


I thought this was an interesting rendition of Ring Around the Rosie because I had never heard the last stanza of the rhyme that the children performed.  Perhaps this is a common rendition in Los Angeles and I am just not aware of it because I did not grow up here.

La Llorona

My informant LK told me the La Llorona legend that he grew up hearing.  He heard this story from his mother when he was around 10 years old.  He grew up in a Mexican American home in Chicago.

“The story is that she drowned her children in a stream while she was washing clothes.  And as her punishment whenever her spirit roams through that little town in Mexico, whenever she comes across water, she cries.  And people can hear her at night crying because she is looking for her children.”

This legend

go into the La Llorona article that we read for class

Big Sis Night: 1

We’ve been doing this since I was a freshman.  So, my family is very cool. Really cool people.  So when the little bro comes in, the guys say “your big since isn’t here but she’ll be here soon.  Will you go get…” some random object in their closet.  And then all the girls will be hiding in the closet. And we jump out with handles and force them to drink immediately! And then we dress the up in a costume and draw all over them.  And make them drink more.  

No one in my family really wants to go to the party. We just want to hang out with each other. 


Ariel: all the boys get a piercing.  All the girls go with them.  We don’t like it, but we go.  It’s a thing.

Don’t Whistle Away Your Money

My informant, KM, explained that Russians believe it is bad luck to whistle under a roof because you are whistling your money away.  This is a very strong belief in Russia.  KM learned this superstition from her Russian American friend and roommate.  Thus, no whistling occurs in KM’s home.

KM saw this superstition in the motherland when traveling in Russia in the summer of 2012.  KM was was on a USC trip with eighteen American students.  KM and her travel companions were walking outside on a street that was under construction.  The sidewalk on which they were walking had overhead scaffolding–basically a roof outdoors.  One of KM’s friends began to whistle when walking beneath the scaffolding and immediately received dirty looks from the Russian passersby.  KM later realized that her friend was receiving stares from the Russians because he was whistling under a roof.  My informant then told her friend and the whole group that whistling under a roof is bad luck.

This belief demonstrates that money is important to Russians and not to be whistled away.  It suggests that Russians do not have a care-free attitude towards their money.  It also demonstrates that Russians have a strong belief in their superstitions.

We Hate to See You Go, Goodbye Song

My informant AS shared with me a goodbye song:


We’re sorry you’re going away

We wish that you could stay

Our prayers will be with you

We really will miss you

We’re sorry you’re going away


We hate to see you go,

We hate to see you go,

We hope to heck you never come back,

We hate to see you go


AS explained, “The story is we moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington. We drove across the country in June of 1998. And uh, maybe July. And that first two years that we lived in Seattle literally every one of my parents—all of our family friends visited from the East Coast to Seattle. And we always gave them the same exact tour. The number of times that I had to go to Pike Place Market and the Ballard Locks.  And then we always sang that to them when they left.”

I asked AS how or where he learned the song? “Just my parents…I don’t know.  Who can say? I mean I was six or seven so I wasn’t really thinking of asking these hard hitters.”

AS learned the song from his parents.  I talked to his father about the song.  He explained that he had learned the song from his aunt and uncle when he was growing up in New Jersey.  AS mentioned that the line “our prayers will be with you” was weird to him as his family is not religious.  But his great uncle did go to a Christian high school on Long Island, so perhaps this song comes out of his uncle’s experience there.

This song was casual and comedic to AS and his family.  Interestingly, the line “we hope to heck you never come back” is the fastest line when singing the song.  I even had trouble understanding that lyric the first time AS sang the song.  It’s almost as if AS and his family were playing a little joke on their visitors.  Though, it’s not meant to be taken to heart.

Each time AS and his family performed the song, it was after another family had spent a weekend with his family, touring the city, sharing meals, etc–doing things together as families.  So it is fitting that AS and his family perform a sort of ritual goodbye to cap off a weekend of ritualized touring.

This song is important to AS because it reminds him of a time when he, his brother, sister, mom and dad were all under one roof. It was before anyone went off to college or got married.  AS explained, “It was when we were the most keyed into the five of us being a family.”


Making Tamales–No Boys Allowed

LK explained that his grandmother and great grandmother would make tamales routinely at his great grandmother’s house.  His grandmother, great grandmother, aunts and mom would sit around the table and make tamales while telling stories.

While this tamale-making is a tradition in and of itself, LK shared a superstition present during the cooking.  LK explained that men were not allowed in the kitchen.  If there were men helping out in the kitchen or even simply standing in the kitchen, the women believed the tamales would burn and therefore be ruined.

LK’s family are Mexican Americans who were for the most part born in America.  LK’s grandmother and great grandmother were very superstitious women.  Therefore, it is not out of the ordinary for them to have superstitions regarding time spent in the kitchen.

Perhaps this superstition developed because the men would distract the women if they were in the kitchen and the tamales would actually burn–a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.  Or perhaps this superstition developed because the kitchen was a woman’s territory in Mexican American culture.  Their belief may have been a mechanism to keep the men off the women’s turf.

Pranks in Hospital

My mother and informant, KK, meets up with her friends from high school about once a month.  They call themselves “club.”  I was home when KK hosted “club” and listened to her and her friends, several of whom are nurses, swap stories about their shifts when working in a hospital.

KK and her friends were working the night shift in the hospital on the oncology floor.  It was probably 1993.

KK and her friends decided they wanted to entertain one of their patients.  Their patient was an 18 year old man hospitalized with leukemia.  KK said, “We wanted to make him happy.”   KK explained that the patient was always up late because his friends would come visit him late at night.

In order to cheer him up, KK and her friends stuffed their chests with pillows, barged into his room, and sang Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy” and Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).”  They called themselves “The Boobettes.”  “And of course he laughed like crazy.  He loved it,” KK said.

KK and her friend’s prank reveals what nurses do that lies outside of their job description.  Rather than being a rite of passage, her skit demonstrates a kind of compassion that often seems to accompany nurses.

Nightly Ritual for the Spirits

My informant LK’s grandmother believed in good and bad spirits.  In every house she lived in, she always felt a presence of spirits.  LK explained that his grandmother was born in Kansas and grew up in Chicago.  “That’s a story too because some people say she was born in Mexico and brought over.  And so we never know.  But she was a U.S. Citizen, so she had to be born in the U.S., I imagine.”

LK’s grandmother was born into a family of Mexican Americans, or quite possibly Mexicans.  LK explained that his grandmother’s mother knew how to work certain spells and certain magic.  “She could do something and make it not walk for a day…So you never wanted to make her angry.”  Clearly, spirits were a part of LK’s grandmother’s culture when growing up.

Therefore it is no surprise that LK’s grandmother regarded the spirits all through her life.

LK explained, “Every night she would leave a glass of water for the spirits–for the thirsty spirits.  And every night she would say prayers for her spirits.  When she prayed to them, she’d light a candle for the spirits and her guardian angels. She had two guardian angels: one was a Hindu with is hands folded and the other was a black woman.”  When I asked if the water was left out to appease the angry spirits and make them more comfortable, LK explained that the water and prayers were for the good spirits.

It seems as if LK’s grandmother equated good spirits with guardian angels.  Perhaps her guardian angels were African American and Hindu because both come from a tradition rich in spiritual beliefs.  Lighting a candle for the spirits probably comes from LK’s grandmother’s Catholic roots, as lighting a candle for someone after praying for them is a common practice in Catholic Churches.  Her practices are perhaps indicative of Catholic culture among Mexicans–Catholicism is not followed the the T.  Rather, the religion of LK’s grandmother seems to be a spiritual belief that melds Hindu, African American, and Catholic beliefs and practices together.

The culture that my informant’s grandmother grew up in was present in LK’s life.  Consequently, he believes in the spirit world.  LK’s grandmother’s beliefs persist in LK’s own life.

Who has smelly feet?

My informant KM explained that in some cultures it is very disrespectful to have the bottom of one’s foot face someone.

KM went on a trip to Egypt with seven other students in the summer of 2013 for an International Relations class at USC.  KM explained, “we were in a meeting with a very powerful woman in Egypt.  It was the nine of us asking her questions.  One of the guys on the trip was sitting next to her with his leg on his knee and his foot facing this woman.  Halfway through the interview the woman said, ‘Something smells! Who has smelly feet?!’  She didn’t say it because his feet smelled, but because she was uncomfortable with having the bottom of his feet face her.  He was really embarrassed so he readjusted his position.  The interview was kind of awkward after that.  But she was a harsh woman to begin with.  ‘Who has smelly feet?’ became a running joke on the trip.”

After the meeting, KM and her group explained what had happened to one of their tour guides.  He explained to them why she was so upset.

KM’s experience in Cairo demonstrates that facing the bottom of one’s foot to a person is so disrespectful and offensive that the woman would stop mid-meeting to correct the faux pas.  Perhaps the bottom of one’s foot is so offensive because it is the dirtiest part of the foot.